7 open source tools and free resources for writing

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Most of us encounter parts of our workday where we must write or document something. Whether for building out the plan of a project, for the documentation of a project, or for the creation of the project itself, like an article or blog post, writing is a part of many of our daily lives regardless of industry or field.

Open source tools can be used to get writing done, and freely available resources can be used to supplement and enhance that work. As a content manager here at Opensource.com, there are seven open source tools and resources that I use everyday.

7 open source tools and free resources for writing and documenting


This tool is simplistic in style and features, yet powerful for that very reason. It is incredibly easy to use and allows you to collaborate directly with others. I use it to document projects and team work, build out plans, take and share notes, and more.

Etherpad is free, on GitHub, and distributed under the terms of Apache License 2.0Download 


This is the content management system we use to run Opensource.com. I use it daily to write, edit, and publish new articles and stories. Drupal also handles our community accounts and hosts our library of open source resources.

Drupal 8 is coming out soon, and it is distributed under the terms of the GPL licenseDownload 


This tool is simple and clean, yet robust for editing source code. I use it to edit and clean up HTML.

Notepad++ is distributed under the terms of the GPL licenseDownload

LibreOffice Writer or OpenOffice Writer

These two word processors provide a similiar experience to that of using Microsoft Word. I prefer supporting open source projects, so I enjoy using these tools to review and edit articles that are submitted to Opensource.com.

LibreOffice Writer is distributed under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 3.0. Download

Apache OpenOffice Writer is distributed under the terms of Apache License 2.0Download

Creative Commons

This resource delivers two outstanding options for those of us who create content. At Opensource.com, we use Creative Commons licenses to distribute visual and written content, like photographs, graphics, and articles. And, we use others' photographs, graphics, and articles licensed for re-use to enhance our readers' experience.

Read more about Creative Commons licenses, choose which one is right for you, and find content for re-use.

Public Domain Review

This resource serves as a way to find works that are released from copyright into the public domain. I use the Public Domain Review to find items, mainly images, that are available for public use.


This resource allows me to point readers to a freely accessible body of information when they may need to better understand a topic, event, or project. I simply link to the appropriate Wikipedia page and go.

What open source tools or free resources do you use to write and document?

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Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.


Great resources, Jen! You may also like Focus Writer: http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/. It is a simple application for a distraction-free writing canvas.

Thanks Charlie, this looks interesting and I'll try it out.

I use gedit for creating content to be pasted into a previously formatted document, and for rough drafts which will be assembled later into a cohesive whole.

Good to know you like it, thanks!

I have to second Charlie's Focus Writer suggestion. It is a really nice program, especially when you get some nice themes set up.

I tend to use <a href="http://wiki.gnome.org/Apps/LaTeXila">LaTeXila</a> for a lot of my writing, but I can understand that most people don't want to bother with LaTeX.

<a href="https://www.zotero.org/">Zotero</a> is what I use to collect and organize research.

Thanks, Josh. I've heard good things about Zotero -- great addition to this list!

For those who don't want to get their hands dirty with Latex (I sympathise) the lyx is probably the answer: a GUI WYSISYM (What You See Is What You Mean) interface that produces LaTex,

I wrote a textbook for my intro computer science class using it.

These days I split my preference between command-line applications and web browser applications / services. However, I still prefer vi/vim as text editor and LaTeX to typeset documents of various kinds.

I'm a little surprised you didn't include Sigil, for making ePubs.

I use Sigil for myself, for putting down information about the steps I take when I upgrade my OS, for when I take some trip, so that I have my flight/hotel/whatever information handy.

But of course, it's also useful for software documentation, and I think one of the essential ways we need to supply information for users.

Greg, this is great. We'll take a look next time we're creating ePubs around here. Thanks.

Good article. I use Libre Office, Wikipedia nad Creative Commons, and I recommend it too!

Thanks Bruno. What kind of writing and/or documenting do you do?

General writing, I think: Curriculum Vitae, some fiction I create, and drafts of my blog's articles!

Awesome! It's great to have these resources freely available. Thanks for sharing.

New text editor: I'm also trying out Atom, GitHub's new text editor at

I've been writing in Vim a lot lately; probably split 50/50 between the command line version and gvim. I'm hoping to ease out of gvim, but it's been handy to have the commands listed in the drop-down menu as a way to remind myself what each one does - certainly faster than using :h to remember.

I have been playing around with a program called <a href="http://brackets.io/">Brackets</a> (released under the MIT License) for the better part of several days now; working with HTML. I have to say that I am very impressed; it is a program worth mentioning.

Another one would be <a href="http://www.lighttable.com/">Light Table</a> which is open source (though I am not too sure of the actual license).

An alternative to Focus Write would be <a href="http://pyroom.org/">PyRoom</a> (GPLv3).

Thanks Jon, sounds like some interesting options.

A new one which I recently came across is <a href="http://pad.haroopress.com/">Haroopad</a> which is a markdown enabled document processor for creating web-friendly documents. (quote taken directly from the site)

Chris and Matt from the Linux Action Show talk about it more on <a href="http://youtu.be/GEljVVa_VwY?t=7m41s">JupiterBroadcasting</a>.

In reply to by Jen Wike Huger

I always tell my students *never* to use wikipedia as their only reference.

It can be a useful source of links though.

If you just need a nice wordprocessor like wordpad, have a look at abiword (http://www.abisource.com/).

Where Libre and Open Office are the opensource variants for msWord, I see abiword (http://www.abisource.com/) as open source for microsofts WordPad.

Would Scribus fit in this list? If you need to do desktop publishing it's a good open source choice.

Steve, yes Scribus is a great addition. I haven't used it but have heard good things.

I use Dave Winer's Fargo, a javascript outliner/CMS that runs in modern browsers.
My Fargo linkblog - http://donhnoteblog.smallpict.com
a commercial Fargo blog = http://glass.qz.com

Don, thanks so much for sharing Fargo. I'm enjoying it. You use it to write your blog and just draft up content in general?

I keep my personal records like medical visits and meds, plus two blogs, and my wife uses it in her tutoring avocation. I also originate most of my twitter and fb posts in the noteblog so I have a record in Dropbox.

Thanks for your post. I've also been checking out Downtown Dame. Pretty cute. Raleigh looks a bit like Burlington, Vermont but much larger. Must be warm down there... by now. Seeing you next to that pool of emerald water reminds me just how cold the water is up here. Anyway...

Reading your post reminded me that I'm looking for some good off-line blogging software -- a "Windows Live Writer" for Linux. If you have some recommends along those lines (I use wordpress.com (Poemshape), I'd enjoy our thoughts. We writers are too frequently overlooked -- not as glamorous or sexy as the photoshop crowd...

Thanks P Gillespie! I use Wordpress as well. I don't have a great recommendation there, but maybe check out Don's suggestion for fun: Fargo.io

Yes, but that's not <em<>off-line</em>, or am I missing something? Since writing you, I've been doing a little research however. I use KDE and am exploring Blogilo. Looks like it might be just the thing.

Yes, it's not offline but I thought you might be interested in it anyway. Let us know what you think about KDE and Blogilo. Also, if you have any interest in sharing a blog post with us on your experience "writing with open source tools" and want to review a few, let me know. Thanks!

Thanks for the invitation, Jen. I just may take you up on the offer, though there may be others here with equally broad experience, or more. :)

I'm sounding way too evangelistic here, but for the record Fargo is online but keeps your files in your own Dropbox as opml so you have an offline copy.

I forgot to mention Fargo has a feature to cross-post to Wordpress blogs (wp-hosted or self-hosted), and scripts to create twitter posts, also a bookmarklet for posting links. You can also set up a free Heroku server. Fargo is a little quirky but I have found it worth the learning curve. You can avoid most of the quirks if you use the vanilla templates.

As for text editing, I find LibreOffice a bit heavy - I have used Abiword on Linux but now usually just textedit on the Mac but its not FOSS.

Sounds cool, but being up in Vermont means I don't often have much Internet connectivity. Blogilo seems very promising. I can work on my blog, including layout, without being connected.

Thanks, Jen! I've had a great experience with most of the tools you mentioned (plus Zotero!) and I'm really proud of them. They are above all valuable achievements of thriving commons-based communities. I'll gladly give a first try to both Etherpad & Public Domain Review. Sharing is what counts but being "dedicated to helping others share their experience with the world", that's even better!

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